Writing · Writing Guide

Show vs Tell: The oldest and most confusing advice in the book.

The first time I heard the words “Show don’t tell” I was in my first college creative writing class.  The professor, a well meaning man with a masters degree in English, did not really elaborate beyond that.  He did provide us with excellent reading and advice throughout the semester that I knew improved my writing by the end of it.  Sadly, it was not until years later that I started to understand the different between showing a scene and just telling the reader about it.

I find it’s easier to learn through examples, so I’ll start with one that “Tells.”

It was night time.  John walked through the woods toward his grandfather’s cabin.  It was cold outside and dark, but he kept walking.  He could see the cabin up ahead of him.  The trees sort of hid it, but he would be there soon.

Now let’s try that again, and this time I’ll “Show.”

Stars twinkled in the sky above him, much more bright above him in here in the woods then they would have been back home in the city.  The moon was absent though, so he did not have the benefit of its light above him, but he knew the path in front of him well enough.  Fallen leaves crunched beneath his boots with every step he took, he would not have been able to get to the cabin quietly, even if he wished too.  In the distance, he could see light dance against the windows of the small cabin, someone had started a fire.  He looked forward to feeling the warmth of its glow once he arrived.  John brought his hands up to rub his arms and gain some heat from the friction of the action.  His breath came out in billowy clouds against the cool night air.

This is still something I am working on, but hopefully you get the idea of what Show Vs. Tell means from my example.  Telling someone the story is just giving them basic facts, without giving them the parts of the story that really set the scene and make it feel real to the reader.

Showing gives them an idea of the scene, a feel for what is going on and what it looks like.  It’s much more engaging for the reader because they can picture the scene and it will more clearly communicate to your reader what you want them to see.

You also want to create a more emotional connection for the reader to make with your writing.  Maybe they remember what it was like to walk in dark woods.  If they connect with the scene or the character, it’s more likely they’ll connect with your story as whole.  Showing your story to them is a way to invite the reader in and make them part of the story. If you only tell them, you’re not giving them enough to make that connection and be a part of your story.

I’m still not perfect at showing rather than telling, but it is something I know actively think about when I’m writing, and that has helped me change the way I write a lot.  What about you?  Any tips for teaching yourself to show rather than tell?

Writing

Capturing the Muse: How to Spark Creative Ideas

photo credit: I have an idea @ home via photopin (license)
photo credit: I have an idea @ home via photopin (license)

A few years ago when I set out on my path to become a writer, I remember being filled with dread that I only had one good idea in me.  I had been trying to write the same book for about 7 years and had not really ever tried to outline or spark another idea.

Luckily around that same time, I drove 4 hours to attend a workshop by Kelly Sue DeConnick, one of my favorite comic writers.  She at one point said something to the effect of “Ideas are the easy part” and it struck a cord with me because it is still something I remember to this day.

At the time, I was not sure that I believed her.  It took me a while to realize part of the reason why I didn’t have more ideas, was that I had not put the work in.  I had not devoted chunks of time to brainstorming, free writing, or just reading new things.

Like I’ve said before, you will meet people that just have seem to ideas constantly bestowed to them by the heavens. You can spend your time envying their blessed gift, or you can put the work in to get ideas of your own.

Now, onto ways to help you spark those ideas, while you’re starting to get your writing routine established and need some ideas to get you off the ground.

Writing Prompts

There are tons of sites all over the web devoted to writing prompts.  Some are just one word, some are a concept, a snippet of dialogue, either way, they are a way to get you writing.  Find which kind of prompt works best for you.  I don’t really write well with a single word prompt, but things like image prompts or quotes tend to really inspire me.  Here are a couple of my favorite prompt sites:

Sing in me, Muse Prompt Community on Live Journal

http://sunday-reveries.livejournal.com/

Though there aren’t any new prompts, this community has a great archive of photo and quote prompts.  I usually look through them until something catches my eye.

Writing Prompts that don’t suck

http://awesomewritingprompts.tumblr.com/

Tumblr has several prompt sites, so feel free to use your google fu to find others.  I like this one because most of the prompts are fairly practical and quick to spark ideas.

Pinterest

www.pinterest.com

Just put “Writing Prompts” in the search bar and you will get a bunch of prompts!  You can also search through them to find sites that provide prompts that speak to you.

Read.  Read a lot.

If you’re anything like me, you may always feel like you don’t have enough time to read.  It’s worth making time for.  I read on my Kindle for a few minutes at my allergy shot appointment each week.  I read instead of playing a few more minutes of Candy Crush.  I try to always keep a book in my car, just in case.

I also subscribe to Audible, and once a month I use my credit to get an audio book.  I love the ease of an audio book and I usually listen at night as I’m winding down for bed.  Audio books are a great way to hear a story while you do other things.

Audio books are not a complete substitute for reading old school style.  Reading either a real book or an ebook, let’s you see grammar and paragraph structure, something that is also important to writing.

So do both.  Absorb what you can.  Enjoy the process of diving into a story.  Note what you like.  Note what you don’t.

If all else fails, grab a friend

I usually do this when I’m stuck on an idea.  I may have a few kernels or a general feeling of where I want to go with the idea, but I just can’t get it out.

Sometimes nothing is better than just throwing it out there and talking through it.  Do it with someone you trust, of course.  I tend to grab either my best friend who is also the creative sort, or my husband.  My hubby isn’t so much the creative sort, but he’ll let me talk myself out when I’m stuck, and generally that’s all I really need, a good sounding board.

I also do virtual sprints with people I know, where we tag each other via email, and report what we’ve done.  Motivation is one way you can help get the ideas to flow.  If you know you’ve 30 minutes to write and you have to report back at the end of the sprint, you’re more likely to sit down and do your work.

If you ever want to sprint with me, feel free to send me a shout out on twitter @xvalkyrieofodin.  It’s always the more the merrier on sprinting for me.

Keep writing!

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times I sit at my desk and just blankly stare at my screen while I try to work through an idea.  I also do my best to give up, even if I switch projects for a bit and come back to something.  What are some of the ways you find that creative spark for new ideas?  Share with me in the comments.